Rijiju's diatribe against collegium system reflects Modi govt's discomfort with judicial independence

The Modi govt evidently wants to appoint SC and HC judges directly by doing away with the collegium system so that the higher judiciary acts as per its bidding

Representative photo
Representative photo

Arun Srivastava

Union law minister Kiren Rijiju has questioned the functioning of the collegium of the Supreme Court and maligned the face of the judiciary in public comments. For almost a fortnight, he has been targeting judges and the judiciary and accusing them of transgressing into the domain of the executive

Never before in the history of independent India has any law minister launched such a tirade against the judiciary.

A look at the functioning of the Narendra Modi government makes it clear that he could not have resorted to this behaviour without the overt support of the top executive, especially the Prime Minister.

For some time now, Modi has been targeting the democratic institutions of the country and trying his best to make them compliant. Rijiju’s invectives are, then, clearly, part of the PM’s design.   

Some senior judges remain unmoved by such developments. This incudes Supreme Court judges Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy who recently made telling observations while hearing the case of Gautam Navlakha, who has been behind bars for several years in the Bhima Koregaon case. The NIA has been adopting murky pleas to let him continue in jail.

The SC said it would place him under house arrest, overruling the NIA’s claim that the 70-year-old rights activist is a threat to national security.

During the hearing, Justice Joseph said, “I don’t think they (the rights activists) want to destroy the country. People who destroy the country, do you want me to tell who they are? The people who are corrupt," he said.

He also observed, “You know what happens when you go to government offices? Who is taking action against the corrupt? Crores of rupees are collected but they get away."

When additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju opposed the court’s suggestion to keep Navlakha under house arrest and argued that the activist had links with Maoists, Kashmiri terrorists and the Islamic State, Justice Joseph said, “We are aware of the case. We are conscious that we have to tread carefully. We agree that house arrest as a form of arrest has to be used carefully by courts. Put whatever restrictions you want. It is not that he is going to destroy the country. He is not in the best of health. Let him remain under house arrest for some days. Let’s try to work it out.”

The bench noted that the chargesheet in the case was filed way back in 2020 and the trial was yet to commence. Referring to the records, the court pointed out that the activist is accused of having links with terrorists and the IS. “How do you connect the dots? ISIS and Gautam. What is the link?” it wondered.

Rijiju has accused the judiciary of not working in a transparent manner. However, Rijiju should spell out what he actually meant by that.

He said that the collegium system of appointing Supreme Court and HC judges was “opaque” and involves “intense politics” on a scale higher than anything that politicians indulge in. His observation obliquely implies that the collegium must not apply its wisdom in choosing the best judges and should instead allow the executive to nominate judges who suit it and are willing to carry out its orders.

When the judiciary is committed to the Constitutional tenets, asserts itself and refuses to succumb to the dirty machinations of the executive, the present regime evidently feels threatened by it.

The most effective mechanism to keep the judiciary under the control of the executive is the appointment of judges by the executive, in other words, by the government. Obviously, this implies that the Modi government intends to make the judiciary subservient to it.

Fundamentally, the executive and judiciary are two pillars of democracy. There should not be any kind of overlapping between them. If the executive believes that the judiciary is not working in the constitutionally defined manner, it could raise the matter with the President of India. But why should it be given a say in interfering with the internal matters of judiciary?

No system is foolproof and perfect. But on the pretext of correcting it and "creating a better system", the government should not be given the opportunity to impose its design on the judiciary.

The prime task of the Supreme Court is to ensure that the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution are not trampled upon or denied by the administration and the government.

We have seen that the Modi govt has the tendency to implicate the voices of protesters in false and fabricated cases. It has also been ruthlessly using agencies such as the CBI, ED and the I-T dept to terrorise political opponents.

In the last eight years, no less than 5000 cases have been filed and 350 persons arrested on flimsy charges. Among them, the maximum number is of Congress leaders and its supporters.

Only yesterday, a PMLA court granted bail to Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut who spent around 100 days in jail. The court observed that the arrest was illegal, without reason and a prima facie indication of a witch hunt.

Raut was arrested by ED in a Rs 1,034-crore money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the redevelopment of Patra Chawl in Goregaon West.

The court also sought to know why the ED had not arrested the main accused, ex-HDIL promoters Rakesh and Sarang Wadhawan. It said Rout's arrest was the outcome of 'pick and choose strategy'. The ED has falsely implicated him in money laundering, it said.

The judge said labelling pure civil disputes as "money laundering" or "an economic offence" cannot automatically give it such a status.

This simple case exposes the reprehensible machination of the ED.

Rijiju is also incorrect in these observations made by him: “When there is a system which is not transparent, which is opaque, then if the concerned minister does not speak out, who else? So basically I am stating a fact which is a thinking and reflection of the lawyers’ community and judges also." 

In realty, since four to five judges who are part of the SC collegium take a collective decision, it can not be described as opaque. The CJI does not take decisions on his own in his chamber. This is simply a case of making false insinuations against the judiciary and the collegium.

(IPA Service)

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